on the shelf

 

Discussion of A Child Called “It” 

 

            I don’t really know where to begin. In the midst of one of the most trying times in my life, I sat down to read this book and never thought that what I was about to encounter would be so profoundly impacting. I am not being dramatic, either. Dave Pelzer’s courage and determination is otherworldly, almost saint-like. If I could interview the individuals associated with this child’s story (aside from the mentally ill mother) my most frequent question would be: “Why didn’t you do anything to stop this?”

            Why didn’t they? It is a very obvious question, but somehow a shockingly inscrutable answer. I have not read the rest of the trilogy yet, but I look forward to finding some trace of reason or explanation in Dave’s brothers and father. As for now, I am left with blaming their silence on the monster that hushed them.

            Let’s start with that monster or “mother”, the antagonist, the thief of childhood, and the murderer of spirit. She is the victimizer of her husband and her children; but, strangely enough, she wasn’t always. The most shocking thing about this character is the drastic switch that brought her from a meticulous, overachieving housewife to a ferocious and overachieving child abuser. In the chapter, Good Times, David shares with us that his mother’s “greatest asset was her determination.” Sadly that determination fueled victory after victory over her innocent child. The irony of David’s fortune cookie, “Love and honor thy mother, for she is the fruit that gives thou life,” is that he did honor his mother (by lying for her) even while she was slowly stripping that life from him.  David recalls his mother saying that she was “sick” around the age of four or five. This is when her behavior starts to change and, for some reason, David becomes her target. It is clear that she is suffering a serious mental illness; however, she seems to have the ability to quickly turn it on and off. It is almost powerful how she can transition from monster back to “normal”, and that she can have such a tight hold on her husband and other children.

            The careful planning of certain abusive acts, the harsh punishments when she gets a call from school, and the proclamations she makes while torturing her child, just make it so hard to understand her reasons and motives. I was so disgusted by this woman, but at the same time, I pitied her.

            I am not sure what to say about David’s father. Stephen Joseph was a strange character. He appeared helpless at times and equally cruel at other times. The most fitting word would be neglect. However, he also seemed to be a victim of his vicious wife. It is interesting that she pined for his approval; yet, she made claims that he “undermined her authority” and got angry with him when he tried to help David. There again is a twisted relationship. I am just frustrated that he never tried hard enough to really defend himself or his child. I do not think that he didn’t care, but I do think he could have sought more help and intervened earlier on. It’s amazing that such a weak and pitiful man could create such an indomitable and courageous boy. Again, I look forward to finding out what happened to his father.

            Reflecting on David’s siblings is interesting because it is the perspective that I am the most connected to. I am not a mother or a father. And though I have spent a short part of my life as a teacher, I have been a sibling longer. As the oldest of six kids, I have watched my sisters and brother receive discipline, punishment, and criticism my whole life. I am sad to say that, as the oldest, I have also participated in the aforementioned admonitions. My intention has always been to be a good example and a friend at the same time. I would imagine that most siblings desire to be friends with one another, which makes David’s brothers so fascinating.

 There is no doubt that having that monster of a mother would negatively affect her other children. But, they also experience that weird switch from wanting to help David to just accepting him as the “bad boy” and mocking their mother’s abusive acts. I was shocked to read how they reacted to the ‘bathtub incident.’ It was as if her torture became entertaining to them. Maybe, they were in denial that their mother was insane. Maybe they were just so brainwashed they didn’t know any better.

 There came a time in my childhood where I started to notice the different ways my parents treated their children. For example, one of my sisters just needed more verbal reprimands, where another needed privileges taken away. I think it is necessary for certain children to receive discipline in different ways than others. But, it seems that such violence and affliction would strike a chord in David’s brothers. Shouldn’t they have run next door and pounded on their neighbor’s door for help? I suppose they were also victim to their mother’s brutality.

             As for the relevance to this class, I was startled to discover that it took so long for a teacher to actually take the steps to help rescue David. It is scary to think that I could potentially have a child like David in my classroom, and that I might not take the time to understand that student’s appearance or disposition. As a busy teacher, with all the daily responsibilities looming, it could be easy to miss the cause of a misbehaving student. After reading this book, I hope that I will make it a priority to pay close attention to the clues from my student’s attire, condition, alertness, and emotion. It is so important that we take the role of guardian if it is needed. In some cases, like David’s, we will be the only voice that can stop the abuse. I am reminded of a scene from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Her teacher, Ms. Honey, goes to her house to speak with her parents, witnesses how they treat their child, and ends up adopting her. I am not proposing that we all start adopting mistreated children; however, I do think that having that spirit of compassion and audacity can make a great difference in a child’s life. We must not turn away and we must do what we can to establish justice.

            As stated, David Pelzer was a remarkable child and an incredible man. I almost feel like he is two different people, a victim and a hero. He displayed tremendous strength and resilience throughout his story. He is also an excellent writer. I felt his hunger, his loneliness, and his desperation through his words. There must be many children who have not survived to tell their own horrors of child abuse. I am thankful that he did.

            I am so happy to have taken this class and read this book. It was very painful and difficult to read, but I know I will benefit from it. It has made me grateful and frustrated and hopeful all at the same time. I hope to hear Mr. Pelzer speak and, to one day join in the great movement to stop child abuse in this country and in the world.

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Huey Long by T. Harry Williams

I am not a very political person. However, I am fascinated by the ups and downs and ins and outs of political development both nationally and globally. A good friend of mine, a man named Happy Fine ( what a name huh?) encouraged me to read this book. Over a year ago, we met early to beat the line for our annual Domilises feast. Happy likes to walk off his food as part of his plan to live longer. So, after all that delicious fried seafood got in our bellies, we took off towards Magazine St. to Broadway to Maple and landed at Maple Street book shop. This is the kind of place where one can easily get lost. Besides the stacks and shelves of reads, there is a cozy closed in back porch lined with old clippings and treasures of well known southern writers. After we wandered and searched, unable to find a copy, Happy insisted that they have one shipped to my apartment. “You gotta to read this book, Katie. It’s gonna teach you sooo much,” he urged in his Boston beat, “Huey was one of the most fascinating creatures to walk this earth.”

So it arrived a week or so later. I started it, got busy with life, and never really gave it a shot. But, I am determined to read it. And now that school and testing is slowing down for a week or two, I am going to give it a go. I’ll let you know how it goes. What books have you started and re-started?-Comment below.

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A Child called “It” by David Pelzer

Started it Saturday at 7:15 finished it Saturday 9:45. It was that good. Painful to read, but incredibly eye-opening.

http://www.davepelzer.com/

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